The Real News

Over the past few months, I've written a few pieces on the feasibility of establishing a progressive cable news channel.  I've written about opportunities to push MSNBC in a leftward direction for the short-term, as well as a long-term strategy for piecing together a new national network using leased cable access in a number of major metropolitan areas.  Today, I'll discuss the work of The Real News, an up-and-coming non-profit progressive news channel based in Canada, which has a fascinating long-term plan for establishing a national presence for progressive TV news.  If you're unfamiliar with The Real News, this interview with CEO Paul Jay gives a great overview to the channel's understanding of how to deliver high-quality journalism in today's environment.

I recently spoke with Geraldine Cahill, the director of social media for The Real News, about the channel's plans for 2008 and beyond.  The Real News has a lot of interesting plans for the future, and many of them are, I think, very much on the right track.  This is an exciting example of a new up-and-coming progressive institution which "gets it" in many ways, and I think it deserves a lot of support from the blogosphere.  Cahill and I spoke about the channel's plans for more content, more widespread distribution, better fundraising, and increased engagement of grassroots supporters and donors.  Much more across the flip.

A key to proving the viability of a new channel is the amount of high quality, frequently-updated content the channel can produce on a regular basis.  The Real News began steadily increasing the number of videos it produces since June of 2007, with a noticeable bump in August 2007.  Within the next 2 - 3 months, The Real News believes it can create about 3 - 4
short pieces a day, 2 - 3 longer pieces every week, and a few
occasional special feature-length pieces.  Current staffing levels are sufficient to support that level of production.

 
The Real News hopes that the 2008 elections will boost interest in progressive news, and give the channel an opportunity to produce still more content.  A key element to capturing this opportunity is the channel's plan to build a Washington, DC bureau and a New York studio.  (Most production efforts are currently based in Toronto.)  Fundraising is currently underway to support these projects.  As someone who finds campaign coverage woefully vapid and horserace-focused, I find the prospect of a steady stream of progressive, policy-oriented, substantive campaign coverage extremely exciting.  It'll be very interesting to see this coverage take shape.

If the Real News can manage to produce a one hour nightly news show, it will still need a distribution channel for its content.  That means finding a cable provider that has space for such a show.  Currently The Real News has a relationship with LinkTV for satellite distribution, and Vision TV for cable distribution in Canada.  There are a few providers in other parts of the world, such as EUX TV in Europe and a few providers in India.  The Real News is also looking into distribution as an on-demand video service with Comcast.  In the US, there are efforts underway to place The Real News programming on public access TV, and RNN TV in New York.  Currently, the Real News is primarily distributed online, and the hopes are to distribute the videos on cable and satellite by Summer 2008.

All of these plans, however, depend on the channel's financial viability.  While the channel's initial funding came from a few foundational grants and large individual donors, and it plans to continue using those funding streams into the near future, The Real News is pursuing a long-term strategy for financial stability founded mostly on small individual donors.  This plan, though, has a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem: small donors don't want to jump into something until it looks viable, but viability for a news channel (as I've mentioned above) requires regular production of fresh content, which requires a lot of up-front funding.  The channel could be self-sustaining with a corps of 250,000 monthly subscribers, each contributing $10 / month.  You can click here to subscribe today.

In a way, The Real News funding model is very similar to that of public television, but without corporate and government sponsorship.  There's no space in The Real News funding formula for corporate advertising.  That's an important distinction, and it will allow the channel to have a wide range of editorial freedom.  Watching Paul Jay talk about the way that editorial freedom will lead to a higher quality of meaningful journalism is exciting, and it certainly makes me think that The Real News has a very good understanding of what's wrong in journalism today, especially in TV journalism.

At the same time, I am a bit worried about the no-advertising model, because I think it both isolates progressive news from a huge chunk of economic life, and places obstacles in the face of progressive candidates wishing to reach a progressive audience.  I think that the progressive movement and the economy as a whole benefit greatly when companies target and solicit progressive customers.  Such targeting can yield money for progressive causes at the same time that it creates actual change, by forcing companies to adopt socially responsible policies.  Moreover, it has the potential to lead to progressive social change - think, for example, of consumers who buy organic because they believe it's healthier, and eventually become more environmentally and socially aware as a result.  Turning down corporate advertising means closing doors in the face of companies who want to reach progressives.  So I am a little worried about the opportunities lost because the Real World is not soliciting advertising.  But I can certainly understand the channel's genuine concern for editorial freedom.

What is most exciting about the Real News, I think, is its deep and broad understanding of the social media landscape, and its open embrace of crowdsourcing.  Grassroots engagement means a lot of different things to the Real News, and the channel offers its supporters a whole range of options for involvement, including:

  • The ability to support the channel through monthly donations
  • The opportunity to host house parties to spread the word about the Real News, and to support other local events sponsored by The Real News
  • The opportunity to provide citizen eye-witness video footage, which might get included or used in news reports
  • Occasional chances to translate video content into other languages
  • The ability to comment on and share video clips, both on the Real News YouTube channel and on its own internal social network

You can, of course, join the Real News volunteer email list to learn about new opportunities as they arise.

Cahill, who directs social media efforts for The Real News, appears to have exactly the right understanding of social media: give people a lot of different opportunities to engage, and hope that over time, they will eventually become more and more involved with the channel.  While The Real News certainly is not bashful about asking people to become monthly subscribers, it certainly offers people a number of other ways to help out and be involved.

On the whole, I think the Real News is a remarkable operation, and it appears to have a very good grasp of how to operate a progressive news show in today's user-focused, grassroots-supported, social media environment.  I think the channel deserves much more support from the progressive blogosphere, and I'll be excited to see it take off during the 2008 elections.

Tags: cable TV, Media, progressive TV, The Real News (all tags)

Comments

21 Comments

Re: The Real News

I don't want progressive television.  I want neutral television.

I look to CBC as the model.  The Canadian station is fair.  It does not lean to the right, or the left.

Let's look to accomplish a fair, unbiased media.  Because to think that the Democrats couldn't corrupt with their own media is wrong.

by RepublicanWatch 2007-12-22 10:10AM | 0 recs
Re: The Real News

I would word fair differently. I want bias- but bias toward uncovering the ultimately truth in any given story or situation versus faux fairness (ie, false equivalencies- you fib a little, they tell a whale of a lie, and it's treated as equal in impact) or lazy repetition of narratives or creation of narratives or infotainment. Fairness for me then takes on a far more work intensive and investigative process that goes beyond soundbites, battling press releases and talking heads, and delves into issues on a more sustained and thoughtful basis. That's neither liberal or conservative, but it's also not something that's done by our media.

by bruh21 2007-12-22 12:44PM | 0 recs
Re: The Real News

I disagree.  I tend to think we do need progressive news.  Like Howard Zinn says, you can't be neutral on a moving train.  There's nothing neutral about reporting the news - which stories you feature, which angle you take on a given story, which facts you emphasize - all these and a million more subtle factors, especially when we're talking about TV news, will undoubtedly cast a political persuasion on your news.  Should journalists or news organizations strive for learning and reporting the truth?  Sure.  But does that mean they have to be, or even can be, politically neutral?  I really don't think so.  Every reporter and news organization has an agenda, and I think the best thing is to disclose it and move on, like we do in the blogosphere.  I think there's still plenty of daylight between being partisan truth hounds and being Fox News, though.

Incidentally - having said all this, I think The Real News is much more interested in being an "objective" operation than in being a progressive one, and it might even be the case that calling them a progressive organization is a bit misleading.  Still, they are part of The Media Consortium, which is plainly progressive, so I don't think it's going too far afield to make that claim.

by Shai Sachs 2007-12-22 12:56PM | 0 recs
Re: The Real News

First, you misconcrue my point. I am not referring to neutrality. I referring to finding the truth. The truth isn't neutral. It's going to choose a side based on what the facts lead them to.

Second, I wouldn't trust a 'progressive' media any more than I trust Fox. The reason I don't trust it is that the danger of a) tribalism b) factions within the movement c) corruption and d) as I've seen online in blogs- progressive id politics. These all can go beyond not only not being neutral or as I prefer finding the truth- but instead become no better than what Fox is- just with a leftward bent. sure, I would enjoy some of the message because it would be packaged the way I like to hear my news- but it wouldn't get the truth to me. That's the problem with American audiences- their ignorance and ability to sustain in the discource Gore described in his book on reason.

by bruh21 2007-12-22 01:10PM | 0 recs
Re: The Real News

Yeah.

With the spread of cable, television news networks are becoming more like newspapers, each of which usually has its own editorial slant.

In that environment, the progressive side is woefully under-represented.

We've seen this trend happen over the years with radio, and we're still trying to play catch up.

by Bush Bites 2007-12-23 12:49AM | 0 recs
Re: The Real News

I think you're right. I'd like to see neutral news myself. That is what journalism is supposed to be about.
But what happens when one side or the other starts crying about biased or unfair coverage?
What happens the funding starts getting threatened?
What about the media's slant towards the sensationalistic and the extreme? (That may be where the real bias is).

And remeber, you're not dealing with Canada here. This is the home of the Utterly Supid and Addlebrained.

by spirowasright 2007-12-22 02:18PM | 0 recs
Re: The Real News

Agree again.

Frankly, you're not talking about creating the BBC or CBC.

You're talking about creating a network that will be accurate but will have a progressive point of reference with an emphasis on progressive issues and concerns.

We already have the BBC and Reuters and what-not.

by Bush Bites 2007-12-23 12:54AM | 0 recs
A Progressive Channel would be very practical

Great, great idea.

-) "Progressive" doesn't mean biased.  Progressives value objectivity, reason and scientific research too much to put up with much partisan krap.  A well-done progressive channel would actually come very close to setting an objective journalistic standard that we all respect.

-)  Canada has managed to escape the coersive, biased media infrastructure that infests US domestic media. They have a better chance to get something working than the US does.

-) There is a large market for "progressive" news in the US. We've abandoned Fox and CNN precisely because they are biased and simply don't serve our interests.  Polls show that on issue after issue; between 50% and 70% of the country holds progressive opinions, and these opinions are not being covered.

-) Has anybody noticed that on AM radio, the five percent of progressive talk shows broadcast every week measured by F.A.I.R hold about 25% of the listening audience, as measured by Arbitron?  

by blue73 2007-12-22 11:10AM | 0 recs
Re: A Progressive Channel would be very practical

i agree, there's a real thirst for actual news, not the junk that masquerades as such these days.  i'm not sure i agree that progressive news has to be unbiased, and i'm not sure that it could be, but i do think that a progressive news channel would be a lot more ethical than Fox is.

by Shai Sachs 2007-12-22 01:02PM | 0 recs
Reason #890845

Why "we" can't get our act together.

"donor based model"? Eschewing advertising?
And "the Real news", ugh, ugh and more ugh.

This needs to happen, but calling something "the real news" and trying to run it like public television isn't the way.

The way to get attention is to break a few high profile stories.

If it's content they want, why don't they form alliances with pre-existing blogosphere news coverage like Huffingpost and TPMuckracker.

Everybody always thinks that they have to re-invent the wheel!

-C.

by neutron 2007-12-22 12:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Reason #890845

well, i know they're part of the Media Consortium, so they are at least working with traditional progressive media outlets.

they're not running exactly like public broadcasting, since they don't get government or corporate support.  will it work?  who knows, but it would be wonderful if it did.  250,000 monthly subscribers sounds very do-able to me.

by Shai Sachs 2007-12-22 01:01PM | 0 recs
Re: Reason #890845

The "donor based model" is the only way that we can get "real news" out there...  Advertisers now have almost total control over news programming, and they will always push a republican or conservative agenda...  the only way to bypass that influence is to destroy it...

This model is what I've been advocating for a long time... I'm glad to see it is working in Canada... our biggest obstacles here are the cable monopolies who will never allow progressive news to air on their networks.  My idea was to form a broadcast network, then no one could block access... unfortunately, that is a much more expensive operation... not only do you lose the cable fees, you have to pay for licenses and equipment... not cheap!

I've thought about doing something like Stratovision only with environmentally high altitude weather balloons that could span large regions of the country, but I doubt the FCC would ever allow it... but, it's an idea, nonetheless...

Thanks,

Mike

by lordmikethegreat 2007-12-22 04:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Reason #890845

Or any agenda that doesn't upset the public or is in any way controversial (spnosrs don't like downbeat stroies around their products).

by spirowasright 2007-12-22 05:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Reason #890845

It frustrates me that so many projects for progressive media are based on a donor model.

I always wish somebody would set up a system for buying stock in a startup or even taking micro-loans. Then hiring a sales staff and really putting the pedal to the metal.

We need to be entreprenurial and aggressive. Let's make money and have fun while we're kicking the Repubs heads in!

by Bush Bites 2007-12-23 01:02AM | 0 recs
Re: Reason #890845

I agree with some of this.  We can't develop a competitive channel funded only with donations. The advertising model might not work very well; but Fox News is also having a terrible time paying for its business activity using only advertising revenue.

Canada might very well have better ideas, since they aren't tied to our FCC-driven history that favors privatization. Also, it might be easier for Canada to provide a competitive channel since it is a smaller country in some ways.

"Progressive" is a magic word that no one is defining very well here.  I would settle for a news channel that provides strongly fact-driven news stories, bases its news analysis firmly on the facts it provides in the news items it broadcasts, carefully keeps from mischaracterizing people and events it reports on, and pursues an editorial policy that truely does emphasize important stories over political, business and entertainment gossip.  

People in some Red States might call this "progressive" and raise their eyebrows, but I would just call it responsible journalism.  

b73

by blue73 2007-12-23 10:11AM | 0 recs
niche audiences

In Cable News Confidential, Jeff Cohen makes a convincing case that Fox News conceives of itself as a niche offering and pursues its niche market doggedly, whereas the other cable news channels think of themselves as broadcast offerings, which they are not.  So in a word, the answer to your question is that Fox has a much better understanding of its own brand than do CNN and MSNBC.

by Shai Sachs 2007-12-22 12:58PM | 0 recs
Re: niche audiences

Yeah, frankly, Fox News does have attitude and a point of reference.

We might disagree with it, but I think that's why it's successful.

I mean, 50 percent of the voters are Democratic, right? So why shouldn't a Democratic-leaning network do just as well?

by Bush Bites 2007-12-23 12:58AM | 0 recs
Re: The Real News

I think a lot of people would watch it...  We've been starving for "real news" for a long time and the democratic base is larger than you give us credit for.

Thanks,

Mike

by lordmikethegreat 2007-12-22 04:32PM | 0 recs
The Real News is the best

It isn't a partisan progressive site but it is way better then even public TV.

I can't wait until they are on cable.

by Populista 2007-12-22 05:14PM | 0 recs
Re: The Real News is the best

I hope it makes it to public television here, although I'm sure it will.

The name reminds me of a political science course I took that discussed the differences between symbolic and real politics.

by misscee 2007-12-23 03:57AM | 0 recs
Forget cable

It's a short to mid-term delivery method that will eventually go away in its present form. People might still get their news via the same physical cable and electrical signals that travel through that cable that they currently do, but via IPTV, which is a totally different content delivery technology from either the analog or digital TV (including HDTV) technology that nearly everyone gets their TV news (and all other TV content) from. Instead of a direct cable connection offering up to 100 channels or an STB (set top box) connection offering up to 1000 channels, IPTV will effectively be able to offer as many channels as there are people who are able and willing to create and offer them. Think of it as the web model translated to TV content. I.e. just as you can now visit literally millions of unique web sites (of varying interest and quality, of course), you will be able to "tune" into literally millions of unique "TV" channels (also of varying interest and quality), originating from anywhere from a multibillion dollar media company to some guy's basement.

This is not streaming web video, mind you, even if redirected to a TV at fairly high quality (which is currently possible, but still requires a computer as the "set top box"). Although it will work on a computer, if desired (the way that some people set up their computers with TV tuners to function as TVs), it will require no computer, at least not of the sort that most people think of as a computer (i.e. Mac or PC). Rather, a set top box will be all that's needed (the functionality of which could be built into future TVs or added via some sort of CableCard-like plug-in device), a comfortable couch, and you're good to go. And the beauty is that while you might still get such a box from the cable company, the open nature of IPTV will make it hard for them to limit the content that you can view. I.e. no more bundling or being forced to watch what you can afford to watch (this is part of the reason that so many telcoms are against new neutrality, as IPTV would kill their present business model, because they can no longer control content).

I think that prospective progressive news producers should give IPTV a serious look. Not as a short or even mid-term solution, as its time hasn't yet come, but as a long-term solution. It'll be far cheaper to produce and "broadcast", will largely avoid the regulatory and practical constraints of broadcasting on cable or (satellite), and won't be subject to the current cable and satellite practice of bundling channels. Basically, if you can afford the staff and technology to produce the news (or any other content), and the cost of an IPTV hosting account, you're good to go. Essentially, everyone gets to have their own cable access channel! The main downside being that this is still several years away from being a practically possible and technologically competitive alternative to existing broadcast technologies, as the technology just isn't there yet (nor are the right people in place in DC yet to help make this happen--Martin has got to GO).

What talk radio was to the right, and the web has been to the left, IPTV (and, I suppose, IP Radio) will be to progressivism in the future. And it will likely blow both of these away in terms of reach. Of course, the right will exploit it too (and clearly Murdoch gets it and has been making lots of moves to get in on the ground floor of this). But given the inherently progressive nature of technology, I suspect that it will benefit our side much more than theirs (but then I was convinced that Gore and Kerry would win so what do I know).

by kovie 2007-12-23 01:58AM | 0 recs

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